Happy Halloween from Ireland! In this month's edition we explore the Halloween traditions of Ireland, learn about the ancient Firbolg who were among the oldest ancestors of the Irish people and delve once again into the Irish Newspaper Archive.
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NEWS FROM IRELAND
CATALONIA REBELLION ECHOES IRISH FIGHT FOR INDEPENDENCE
IRELAND IN TOP TEN OF WORLD FAST-FOOD EATERS
It will come as little surprise to those who have been warning for many years now that Ireland is facing an obesity epidemic that the country ranks in tenth place in the list of fast-food consuming countries. USA, Australia and Canada topped the list with Finland, the UK, the UAE and Hong Kong making up the top ten.
A separate study by 'The Lancet' publication showed that one fifth of the world's obese adults live in Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
The connection is not hard to make.
KATIE TAYLOR RULES THE WORLD
Ireland's finest sports-person, the boxer Katie Taylor has enhanced her already glowing reputation by claiming her first World Title as a professional fighter. By defeating Argentina's Anahi Esther Sanchez in the bout in Cardiff, the five-time world amateur champion from Bray claimed the WBA lightweight belt. Her first Title as a professional boxer.
It was a terrific display from Taylor against a stubborn and dogged opponent. The judges each scored the fight 99-90 for Taylor who is now seeking to unify the lightweight belts and claim her place among the all-time greats of world boxing.
KEEP THIS NEWSLETTER ALIVE!
FIND YOUR NAME IN OUR GALLERY OF IRISH COATS OF ARMS
The Firbolg were an ancient race of people that ruled Ireland before the Tuatha de Danaan and the Melesians. The origin of the name Firbolg is still subject to conjecture with 'men of spear', 'men of the bag' and 'men of boats' being suggested translations.
Legend has it that the Firbolg were enslaved by the Greeks and forced to move large volumes of soil in bags, which may account for the derivation of their name. For three centuries their persecution continued before they eventually stole some Greek ships and set sail for Ireland. The leaders of the escape were five brothers, Slainge, Rudraige, Genann, Gann, and Sengann.
The 5000-strong tribe headed to the west coast of Ireland but were soon scattered by the rough seas and had to land at different bays. They reformed at the Hill of Tara where the country was divided into five Provinces. These boundaries substantially survived into modern times and became four Provinces, with two of the original five being merged.
Ireland prospered under the Firbolg. They had a political structure, administration and a Kingdom. They brought bronze-age technology to Ireland.
Lady Wilde in 'Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland' describes:
'But the Firbolgs begin our authentic history. They had laws and social institutions, and established a monarchical government at the far-famed Hill of Tara, about which our early centres of civilization sprung, and where we have now most of those great pasture-lands, those plains of Meath that can beat the world for their fattening qualities, and which supply neighbouring countries with their most admired meats.'
They fought off persistent raids by the Fomorians, who they united with on several occasions to ward off other would-be invaders. For thirty-seven years there were seven successive Firbolg Kings who ruled over a thriving land in Ireland. But a new wave of invaders were on the way, the incredible Tuatha de Danann.
Despite negotiations and time-stalling tactics by the Firbolg, defeat to the technically superior Tuatha de Danann was inevitable. Staring defeat in the face the Firbolg petitioned the Tuatha de Danann for once last chance of victory: a battle between equal forces.
Bravery was not enough though. The Firbolg were finally defeated at the Battle of Moytura but not before they impressed the new rulers of Ireland with their fierce courage and honour. The country was divided again with the western part of the country, Connaught Province, being assigned to the Firbolg.
From this time on the power of the Firbolg waned. They continued to live in the West of Ireland and, together with the Tuatha de Danann and the Milesians, are regarded as one of the great ancient tribes of Ireland.
Halloween Customs in Ireland
The ancient Celts celebrated Halloween as Samhain, 'All
Hallowtide' - meaning 'The Feast of the Dead', when the
dead revisited the mortal world. The celebration of this event
marked the end of Summer and the start of the
During the eighth century the Catholic Church
designated the first day of November as 'All
Saints Day' ('All Hallows') - a day of
commemoration for all of those Saints that did not have
a specific day of remembrance. The night before
was known as 'All Hallows Eve' which, over time,
became known as Halloween.
There are many Irish Halloween Traditions:
The Barnbrack Cake: The traditional Halloween
cake in Ireland is the barnbrack which is a kind of
fruit bread and will certainly evoke great memories among those who grew up in Irish households in the 60's, 70's and even the 80's. Each member of the family was given a
slice of the cake. Great interest is taken in the outcome as
there is a piece of rag, a coin and a ring to be found - watch your teeth! If you get the rag then your financial
future is doubtful. If you get the coin then you
can look forward to a prosperous year. Getting
the ring is a sure sign of impending romance
or continued happiness.
Colcannon for Dinner: Boiled Potato, Curly Kale
(a cabbage) and raw Onions are provided as the
traditional Irish Halloween dinner. Clean coins
are wrapped in baking paper and placed in the
potato for children to find and keep.
The Pumpkin: The tradition of Carving Pumpkins dates back to the
eighteenth century and to an Irish blacksmith
named Jack who colluded with the Devil and was
denied entry to Heaven. He was condemned to
wander the earth but asked the Devil for some
light. He was given a burning coal ember which he
placed inside a turnip that he had hollowed out.
Thus, the tradition of Jack O'Lanterns were born
- the bearer being the wandering blacksmith - a
damned soul. Villagers in Ireland hoped that the
lantern in their window would keep the wanderer
away. When the Irish emigrated in their millions
to America there were not many turnips to be had so pumpkins were used instead.
Halloween Costumes: On Halloween night children
dress up in scary costumes and go house to
house. 'Help the Halloween Party' and 'Trick or
Treat' were the cries to be heard at each door.
This tradition of wearing costumes also dates back
to ancient Celtic times. On the special night when the
living and the dead were at their closest the
Celtic Druids would dress up in elaborate costumes
to disguise themselves as spirits and devils in
case they encountered other devils and spirits
during the night. By using a disguise they hoped that
they would be able to avoid being carried away at
the end of the night. This explains why witches,
goblins and ghosts still remain the most popular
choices for the costumes.
The Ivy Leaf: Each member of the family places a
perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and it is
then left undisturbed overnight. If, in the
morning, a leaf is still perfect and has not
developed any spots then the person who placed the
leaf in the cup can be sure of 12 months health
until the following Halloween. If not.....
Snap Apple: After the visits to the neighbours the
Halloween games begin, the most popular of which
is Snap Apple. An apple is suspended from a string
and the children are blindfolded. The first child to
get a decent bite of the apple gets to keep their
prize. The same game can be played by placing
apples in a basin of water and trying to get a
grip on the apple without too much mess! Good luck with that.
Blind Date: Blindfolds are placed on the eyer of local girls would go out
into the fields and pull up the first cabbage they
could find. If their cabbage had a substantial
amount of earth attached to the roots then their
future loved one would have money (land!). Eating the
cabbage would reveal the nature of their future
husband - bitter or sweet!
Another way of finding your future spouse is to
peel an apple in one go. If done successfully the
single apple peel could be dropped on the floor
to reveal the initials of the future-intended.
Anti-Fairy Precautions: Fairies and goblins try to
collect as many souls as they can at Halloween but
if they met a person who threw the dust from under
their feet at the Fairy then they would be obliged
to release any souls that they held captive.
Holy water was sometimes anointed on farm animals
to keep them safe during the night. If the animals
were showing signs of ill health on All Hallows
Eve then they would be spat on to try to ward off
any evil spirits.
The Bonfire: The Halloween bonfire is a tradition
to encourage dreams of who your future husband or
wife is going to be. The idea was to drop a
cutting of your hair into the burning embers and
then dream of you future loved one. Halloween was
one of the Celt 'fire' celebrations. Of course in modern times the bonfire is often the focal point of the Halloween celebration.
THE GHOST STORY by Pat Watson
It was a frosty night in January in the year of
Our Lord nineteen hundred and nine. Bill was the
church caretaker in this half parish. The priest
only rode his horse out here on Sunday to read
Mass or for funerals.
This was one such day as
this evening the remains of old Granny Smith had
come to the chapel. Coffins were left in the back
of the chapel overnight. He had locked the church
earlier at ten and had only come out to look at
the cows before going to bed. It was just after
midnight. Was that a noise he heard in the church?
It couldn't possibly be as he had barred the
double doors on the inside before exiting through
the sacristy door, which he locked with the key.
Why he still had it in his pocket. Just the same,
it was only twenty yards to the double doors, he
would have a look. Halfway there he felt a bit
eerie so he called out.
'Is there anyone there?' The only reply he got
was a creaking door. As he moved into the shadow
he could see that one of the double doors was
half open. What the hell? He stopped in his
tracks. He peeped in the door, he could not see,
he pushed in the door a bit farther. He looked
over to where the coffin was left on trestles.
Good God! The old woman was sitting up in the
coffin. He could see her by the moonlight that
came through the stained glass windows. He
could feel his hair stand on end. She had her
head on the end of the coffin with her two arms
hanging over the sides. The lid of the coffin
was standing up against a pillar.
'Did that lid move?' He thought it did.
'Don't be daft he told himself, coffin lids
don't move on their own accord. There, it moved
again, it had feet, little bare feet.' He looked
back to the coffin. It had legs, two bare legs.
Had the old woman put her legs down through the
bottom of the coffin? The legs had a white shroud
dangling to the knees. Bill was rooted to the
spot. Sheer terror froze him. Then a white cowl
appeared over the edge of the coffin. He felt
its eyes peering.
A great unearthly shriek emanated from the cowl.
It sounded like r-u-n-f-o-r y-o-u-r l-i-f-e. So
screaming, the white ghost emerged from behind
the coffin and headed straight for Bill at the
open door. A black ghost who came from behind
the lid chased him. Bill collapsed into the back
seat just in time to avoid been trampled on by
the screaming ghosts. They went through the
opening like bats out of hell. Had he really
collapsed? Or did they run through him? He just
didn't know any more. He was glad that the
shrieks were receding into the distance. He
hoped he had seen the last of them. His hair
was still on end. It had probably turned white.
A few people who lived near the road thought
they heard screaming, but they could not be
sure. Some thought they dreamt it. Not so
John and Stephen who were coming home with a
good few pints on them. They saw the ghosts
all right. They passed them on the road at
great speed. Their shrieks had subsided by
then. They disappeared after crossing the dragon
stream, near old Granny Smith's house. (John
spent the rest of his life, which wasn't very
long, mumbling in a drunken haze. Stephen on the
other hand took the pledge the very next day and
never drank again for the remaining thirty years
of his life. Indeed, it was rumoured that he
confided to his good wife that he saw the devil
chasing his soul across the dragon stream and
that he promised God that if he gave him another
chance, he would never drink again.)
Meanwhile back at the church, Bill sat in a
trauma trance, silently invoking God, His
Blessed Mother and every saint in creation.
Eventually, his heart slipped back out of his
mouth and began to beat normally, his hair lay
down again and the sweat all over his body began
to cool. Some of his reason returned. The small
stipend he received as church caretaker made the
difference between him being a poor small farmer
and a very poor small farmer. His 'gossans'
were serving Mass and doing well at school. He
might even make a priest out of one of them yet.
That would give him real stature in the parish.
Fear or no fear, he had to keep his job and that
meant keeping the church locked and corpses in
their coffins. He got up, his knees were shaking,
his hands were shaking, yet he closed the double
oak doors, the handles of which were u-shaped
made to line up with similar u-shapes on the
frames when the doors were closed. Into those
slots he dropped the six by three polished oak
plank that was made for the purpose. This made
the whole thing rock solid. Hopefully it would
keep out the ghosts if they returned.
He then went to the coffin, put back the arm on
the right, walked round, put back the other arm,
then down to the foot where he caught the two
ankles and pulled the old woman back into the
coffin. Her head bounced off the bottom with a
thud, no lining in the coffins of the poor, not
even a fist full of sawdust. He then rearranged
her habit just for decency. He peered behind the
lid, just in case, then picked it up and put it
on the coffin. The wooden dowels for holding it
on were under the trestles; he put them in
position, pulled off one boot to tap them home.
He replaced the boot, now for the walk up the
full length of the church to the sacristy.
He could not look both sides at once and ghosts
might emerge from the shadows of the seats at
any time. The red sanctuary lamp looked down,
its dull light mingling with the dim moonlight
making the whole scene eerie, unreal, ghostly
He could hear his own breathing, his heart was
pounding again, the sound of his own footsteps
unnerved him, but finally he reached the sacristy.
He rushed in, unlocked the outer door, dashed out
and locked the door behind him. He had done his
duty. He would keep his job. Nobody would ever
know what happened here.
Having broken the ice on the barrel under the
eve, he washed death from his hands, wiped them
in his trousers and tiptoed back into his house.
Everybody was still asleep. He had not been
missed. As he crept into bed beside his sleeping
wife his courage and reason returned. Why had the
ghosts left the dowels under the trestles? Had
they intended to replace the lid? If so, why?
Why were they so small? Perhaps they were not
ghosts at all. The Granny had only been rescued
from the poor house because of the new
five-shilling old age pension. By the time they
had brought her home ten miles on the ass's cart
she had the rattles in her throat. She died the
next day. One five-shilling pension was all they
got. It wouldn't half pay for the drink at the
And another thing! He had heard that
she was laid out on a linen sheet on the kitchen
table. No one belonging to them ever owned a
linen sheet, no, nor even a flour bag sheet.
That's where unrestrained young love led to,
poverty and want. Where would they have got the
sheet? Where! Only on loan from their cousin who
worked in the big house? It would have to be
returned even if through drink or pride the
undertaker was allowed to put it in the coffin
with the old woman. If two grandchildren hid in
the church wrapped in granny's black shawl they
could remove the sheet when everyone was in bed.
If they were disturbed in their weird work,
might they not have wrapped themselves in the
sheet and the shawl and run screaming from the
scene? Had he solved the puzzle?
confront the children after the funeral tomorrow
and confirm his suspicions. Until he had talked
to the children he would not mention any of this
to a soul. He had a long wait. He would never
The children weren't at the funeral, sick,
someone said. He supposed they got cold in the
church, he would see them at Mass on Sunday.
They didn't come, still sick? He never saw them
again. Consumption took them with the blooming
of the daffodils, only twelve hours apart. They
were buried together beside the Granny.
'Maybe it was ghosts that night after all. Maybe
it was the children. Maybe, just maybe they
should have let the dead rest? Maybe just maybe
we should do the same?'
May they all stay resting in peace!
'The Ghost Story' is one of sixty lyrical yarns from
'Original Irish Stories' by Pat Watson,
Creagh, Bealnamulla, Athlone, Ireland.
First published in May 2006.
or you can email the author here:
On Saturday last, one of those wretched beings whose squalid face, emaciated form, and almost naked person bespoke him as an Irish Peasant, waited upon Mr. Charles, in consequence of having heard that he (Mr. C.) could, at command, transfer any article from the possession of its owner to wherever it should be desired.
And having that day got a letter written to his wife, at Ballinaderrig, County Sligo, acquainting her of his arrival in Dublin, from a reaping excursion in England, with four pounds five shillings, and a new shawl for her. He hoped his honor (Mr. Charles) would: 'make the letter go to Biddy, without any postage, which would be a great saving to a poor man like him.'
To this reasonable request Mr. Charles replied by endeavouring to assure the poor fellow, that he (Mr. C.) never exercised the wonder of Azmodeus to any greater extent than within one mile from the place of performance.
To this information honest Timothy O'Loughlin required an explanation, for he said: 'that one Flanagan, a carman's factor, in Thomas-street, told him that his Honor, Mr. C., did one night that week borrow a handkerchief from a Lady, and that upon desiring it to be left in her room at Portobello, where her brother went for it, he found it there, and if his Honor could do that, sure he might be after sending the letter to Biddy, to save a poor man the postage.'
Facts are stubborn things; and as there was no denying the circumstance of the handkerchief alluded to by Timothy, and after some enquiry respecting his family, Mr. Charles satisfied the faithful husband's affectionate anxiety, by taking the letter, and assuring him it should reach its destination without any cost to him or his Biddy, and dismissed him with an addition to the four pounds five shillings.
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I hope that you have enjoyed this issue!
by Michael Green,
The Information about Ireland Site.
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